Thursday, June 5, 2014

Exotic America: A Day in Puerto Rico

In March 2014, I went on a whirlwind week long Carnival cruise with ten of my closest friends. We traveled to St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas - some of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean; however one of the highlights of the cruise was our embarkment and disembarkment port: San Juan, Puerto Rico! We only spent two half days exploring this lovely United States territory, but I saw enough of Old San Juan city to know that I want to return to Puerto Rico again (and hopefully soon).

Fort San Cristobal
Upon arriving at the port of Old San Juan, we immediately set off to take our own walking tour of the old city. The sunny 80 degree weather was sublime as we aimlessly meandered along the cobblestone streets and between vibrantly colored buildings. I've always enjoyed walking on cobblestone streets, like the ones in the most spectacular cities of Europe, but the streets in Old San Juanwere special: the stones were blue, which gave the city an even more vibrant and exotic feel.

Blue Cobble Stone Streets of Old San Juan
Our first find was the bright and white Capitol building that stood on a hill, surrounded by palm trees and overlooking the Caribbean Sea. After passing the capitol, we made our way to Fort San Cristobal, a fort that dates back to the seventeenth century. I would have liked to explore this Fort more; it was quite amazing to watch the deep blue ocean, white sands, and palm trees shine in the Puerto Rican sun while standing behind the ramparts of this stone fort wonder. As we explored the rest of Old San Juan before boarding our cruise ship, we ran into several other highlights. These include La Forteleza and the San Juan Gate overlooking a picturesque view of the piers and bay near San Juan. Even the U.S. Post building in Old San Juan had fascinating architecture. I also enjoyed walking down the road, Calle Sol, which arguably holds the brightest colored buildings in Old San Juan. One of the greatest (and most memorable) surprises of the day occurred as we walked between the walls of El Morro Fort and the water, along Paseo de Morro and Paseo de Princesa back toward the cruise ships. We reached the shore just as the red, orange, and pinked hued sun set over the sail boats and yachts that floated in the ocean. Festive music and dancing greeted us as we enjoyed our walk back to the piers from the stone walls of El Morro Fort.

The Cathedral of Rum and the Bacardi Factory
Eight days later, my friends and I returned back to San Juan after an exciting week in five other islands of the Caribbean. Before catching our plane back to mainland United States, we hopped on a ferry across the bay, grabbed a taxi, and sped toward the Bacardi Rum Factory. First off, the ride to the Bacardi Rum Factory has the best views of the hilltop El Morro Fort. Second, the tour of Bacardi Rum Factory is well worth it! I learned an abundance of information about the rum making process and the variance of taste in different types of rum. Better yet, the tour of the Bacardi facilities is free and each visitor over the age of 18 receives two free Bacardi drinks as tasters (try the peach rum). While on the topic of food and drink, my friends and I sampled chicken mufungo, a plantain based traditional food product of Puerto Rico. If you want to try authentic Puerto Rican food- you've got to buy mufungo, which can be found almost everywhere in Old San Juan.
Watching the Sunset from the ramparts of El Morro

Visiting San Juan was definitely a bucket list item for me; I was able to cross this island right off my very long list of places I still need to explore. While I would love to return to the blue cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, two places outside the city are still must sees in Puerto Rico; hopefully, one day I will walk among the beautiful landscape in the Yunque rain forest and kayak in the Vieques bioluminescent bay.